Halloween COMTHIRDFLT style

In 1998 or perhaps 1999, when Commander, US THIRD Fleet, Vice Admiral Herb Brown was embarked on the USS CORONADO (AGF-11) we had the first and only Halloween that the embarked Staff celebrated underway. Or I should clarify, that the enlisted members of the Staff celebrated underway. It might have been a first-ever “trick or treat” that was robustly and enthusiastically celebrated in an underway Navy vessel.

Several of my peers in the Petty Officer First Class Mess had the idea, with us underway to Anchorage during Halloween, to make unfinished compartments in the aft part of the ship a “haunted house”. We had made a port visit to Pearl Harbor earlier in October, where we picked up supplies. My “partner-in-crime”, Storekeeper First Class, aka “SK One” decided that we would add a little to evening by going around-in costume – Trick or Treating – but handing out candy to various members of the Staff and crew. I wore a Frankenstein mask and an old suit bought at a Honolulu thrift store, and my partner, the Grim Reaper (complete with a rubber sickle). The most memorable door we knocked on was the Admiral’s cabin. He was traveling with the ship up to Anchorage and had a family member with him at the time. I think the sight bowled him over with laughter. We bestowed a couple pieces of candy and a toy “Death Star” ornament.

Meanwhile, for members of the crew off-duty we had a great time with our “haunted house” – complete with ghouls, Davy Jones, and a booty chest. Since that part of the ship was still under construction, glo-sticks provided the only light, adding to the spookiness. For days afterward, there was a lot of scuttlebutt going around about who might have dared to go trick or treating the Admiral, the ship’s Commanding Officer, and others aboard. I don’t think we admitted to it, but the Supply Department Head I think figured out SK1 had to be involved. (I was suspected also, as I had made a remark to my Intel officer a week or so earlier.)

Twenty-five years later, and retired eleven years now, each Halloween has become an opportunity to be a little creative, to entertain the neighborhood children and our grandchildren. Tonight was no exception. But that particular Halloween nearly 25 years ago, was memorable, such that it still makes me chuckle when I put up the inflatable Frankenstein yard decoration.

NOTE: While the AGF-11 has been decommissioned and scrapped a long time, the communications call sign for this command and control ship, during my assignment on her, was re-designated “Death Star” in response to a quip by an enlisted member of the crew published in the NAVY TIMES. The CORONADO was a SPAWARS (now NAVWAR) testbed for all sorts of new bleeding-edge technology during my time aboard – and was pretty amazing for a renovated old LPD. As for the gifts we gave out to certain senior officers? During a port visit in Seattle, after the “Death Star” designator made the rounds among the Staff, SK1 and I found a memorabilia store in Pikes Market where we bought several Star Wars “Death Star” ornaments. Oh, that remark I mentioned earlier? “Wasn’t the Death Star, the ship in Star Wars that was blown up…. TWICE?”

Ask the Chief: the shine makes a fine Navy day

The shiny glow of my new concrete patio and driveway gives me a moment of pride. It is the same sort of pride I had when, forty-plus years ago, I had learned that the discipline required to spit-shine your boots to the point the inspector could see his reflection, polish brass belt buckles and other metals to a glow, and to present a spotlessly clean and sharply pressed uniform, marked a Navy man’s accomplishment of minimum standards set by the inspecting authority. While in training and then again in our units, inspections followed prescribed “field days”. Every surface from overhead to the crevices behind the urinals in the head were meticulously cleaned to remove debris and stains. The shine on the waxed decks were routinely reapplied, scrubbing off the old floor wax, reapplying new and buffing them to a high gloss. The regimen we practiced to achieve that shine carried over to the meticulous manner that every Sailor applied to the equipment that each operated and maintained. Being acknowledged by the Executive Officer, often the prize for the least number of observed inspection “hits” might be an extra night of liberty or bragging rights among your peers.

Though it has been more than twenty years since I last had rolled up my coverall sleeves and set about scrubbing for a shipboard field day, the shine I observe on my new sealed concrete patio and driveway fills me with a “little” Navy pride. Even the strong odor of the sealant when it was first applied a few days ago, brought back memories of the blue terrazzo deck coating and sealant my team and I applied during an in-port maintenance period. I must admit I have not worn dress shoes all that often in the last decade or so, and it has been a few years since I really put a spit-shine on them. I believe the last time I really did so, was either for a wedding or a retirement.

When you live in a dusty environment as we do in eastern San Diego County, meticulous cleaning might be required more frequently than the four times a day our shipboard crew did so. My spouse and I, as dog-people, have settled for a little dust though we clean deeply before others drop by to visit. Now that we have all but completed our outdoor spaces and it is the season (for San Diego) to host parties, we are probably going to schedule field days routinely from this point to show off a tight ship. However, the shine that greets my eyes looking from driveway to back pation is nothing less than invigorating. And I am hearing myself say once again: I am having a fine Navy day.

Ask the Chief: listen and comprehend

I recall a time when listening, and comprehending what I heard, was not one of my strongest qualities. Boot camp “helped” me change that weakness.

“What is your major malfunction, Numb***s?“, the Company Commander bellowed at me. Because everyone was part of a team, he explained when one member fails, the team suffers: He continued, “EVERYONE – DOWN and give me Twenty [pushups]!!!”)

Active listening, which at that time meant, listening intently to the Company Commander (Drill Instructor in the Marines) internalizing or instantly responding to his instructions. For some, it was coerced, due to members of the team encouraging a weaker recruit to focus. Those who successfully completed recruit training, gained skill in listening and comprehending what they were told, so they might become effective sailors, soldiers, airman or marines. However, those proven methods for military cohesion and performance are unsuitable for most other occupations.

Active listening

A service my business provides administers one of the state licensing exams. We provide test candidates with instructions about the exam beforehand and monitor them during the test. Though I repeat myself four times about the bathroom policy or warn about message-capable devices being prohibited during the exams, someone with a need to use the restroom, or another having a cellphone or IWatch on their person, after the timed test begins, tests me. As a matter of state policy, once an exam begins, nobody can be out of eyesight, to prevent cheating. This includes a requirement to monitoring in the bathroom. While a matter of ethics and not necessarily comprehension, there are sufficient reports of people distributing images of the test questions to reinforce these policies.

Most of our test candidates are prepared for admission to the state test. Some have not listened nor understood what they must bring to be successfully admitted. One of the most arcane line items for many teens and Twenty-Somethings, is a properly- sized, properly-addressed and properly-stamped envelope to receive test results by mail. With an Internet of tens of billions webpages and videos, a remarkable number of the young have not searched for things they do not understand. A significant number have not reviewed test checklists – for the acceptable identification, a pencil, envelope, and state application form -which are sent by mail or email from the test administrators a week or two before the test.

Language comprehension

A number of candidates are not adequately prepared to take the state exam due to their lack of English language comprehension. Where the secondary school system or junior colleges may be structured for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, trade schools on accelerated schedules often omit competency tests (in written or oral skills) as a prerequisite. However, some skills with a state or Federal licensing requirement, are tested only in English.

At the same time, many non-native speakers of English successfully complete training through schools, local governments and community programs that provide classes in ESL to prepare immigrants and adult learners for careers. As for those who fail to certify for licensing, some get the assistance to gain comprehension in written and spoken English for their career field. Some find members of their ethnic community to assist them and they eventually may succeed.

incentivize listening and comprehension

As a retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer, I have more than thirty years experience witnessing how a structured system of training, and of unbending standards – in performance or conduct – could advance someone from weakness to strength. People who are incentivized to succeed, provided the tools to do so, and not given special accommodation nor lowered standards, will succeed. The issues that are central to success in one’s country of residence is skill-attainment and comprehension. It is a systemic failure, both in the public sector (government bureaucracy) and society when people are not adequately prepared to be self-sufficient. However, it ultimately is the individual who determines whether they comprehend the information they receive. And the individual has to engage the trainers to gain that comprehension. While some are unmotivated and squander the opportunity, others may find another school or resource that offers additional training in listening or language comprehension. Once these challenges are resolved, I will welcome the day the greater challenge for test candidates, is to properly address and affix postage on a business envelope.

Honoring the fallen and defending the living

September the eleventh, 2001 began as an ordinary day for millions of people in the United States and around the world. By the mid-morning, in New York City, in Washington, D.C, and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the suffering and death of thousands because of terrorists would forever change our perception of normalcy. On the anniversary of examples of the depth of depravity which mankind can sink, the selfless sacrifice and amazing bravery of those who challenged the terrorists (particularly on Flight 93) is inspiring. As inspiring as those who sought to aid the injured and trapped in the World Trade Center and Pentagon. And as inspiring as those who spent months combing the wreckage in New York. In the last twenty years, almost every person in the United States, and in many countries around the world has been touched by a loved one impacted by that day or in the wars in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere. These are the stories worthy to honor.

The United States has sent military forces into regions around the world, to defend US trade, personnel and alliances, since the turn of the Nineteenth Century. And since the end of the Cold War, the world has gotten more unstable and violent with the extra-national threat posed by “Islamist” extremists. All my adult life, there has been conflict involving the United States in the Middle East. Before 9/11 and the ensuing twenty years of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, blood was shed on the USS LIBERTY during the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt (1967); and in Iran when our team attempted to rescue our Embassy personnel held captive (1979 -80). From that point, military actions in the region faced tribal rivalries, discounted historical defeats of “Western” powers and resistance to “First World” social norms. Since Lebanon when terrorists blew up the Marine barracks (1983); the missile strike by Iraq aircraft against the USS STARK (1987); the Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield/ Desert Storm) in 1991; and bombing of the USS COLE (2000), unconventional warfare using zealots or victims strapped to bombs and IEDs has threatened our forces. On the anniversary of 9/11 the murders of our ambassador and embassy personnel (US Special Operations veterans) in Benghazi, Libya (2012). America has lost military service personnel in operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. And in the chaotic conclusion of the military mission in Afghanistan in August of 2021, the last casualties there -hopefully – include 13 Marines and Navy Corpsmen killed by a terrorist wearing a bomb.

While I had been in a Navy uniform from 1977 to 1980, and again from 1987 until 2010, it was that first September morning, when I lost a mentor and former shipmate in the Pentagon attack, that defined the purpose for which I had enlisted. Protecting my fellow servicemembers. Honoring the fallen. Providing comfort to the families of the injured and deceased.

As military veterans and their families, we mourn our dead and help the living. And as citizen-soldiers, we vote for the Government that reflect our values. As veterans and currently serving military personnel, we best can reflect on the costs of conflict. It should give us determination to protect our citizens and defend our homeland. The lessons of September 11, 2001 and from all those who have borne the battle, is to protect our future. And for that reason, it is a veteran who should strive to become a teacher and professor, a journalist, a city council person, a business owner, a judge, and a United States Senator. A veteran can oppose complacency and false doctrine with firsthand accounts and perspective. To honor the sacrifice of those whom this day commemorates. And to deter evil.

Ask the Chief: IGWT AOPC

There are certain folksy “wisdoms” that accompany someone going into business for themselves. Some have not stood the test of time; however, not all customers are trustworthy just as not all sellers are ethical. But when learned and applied, most of these will enable the self-employed to succeed.

  • the customer expects a service to be performed on time and at the agreed fee
  • offering a price discount is a way to draw customer interest
  • customer and entrepreneur both understand the scope of work prior to acceptance; additional work requires an additional fee
  • buy now, pay later is a service to generate sales; this should only be offered to reliable, repeat customers
  • count out the customer’s payment and any change due, at the time of service
  • in God We Trust; all others pay cash (IGWT AOPC); this is particularly important with new customers who may wish to pay with credit that the processor refuses.
  • respond quickly and appropriately to negative feedback (especially online)

Cleaning house

To someone other than a veteran, the idea of possessing only the minimum essential items to sustain life, military preparedness, and fighting effectiveness, may be strange. To a fighting force, whether a ground, air, or naval unit, storage space comes at a premium. Mobility, which means a fighting force’s lethality or in defensive situations its survivability, requires individuals, units, or battlegroups to necessarily limit the amount of stuff to drag along. Too much stuff not only means complicated storage, but the likelihood of being unable to have sufficient resources for things that break down or need more maintenance.

if it cannot fit in your seabag, you do not need it

Civilians entering military service are conditioned to this sort of thinking in the first weeks of recruit training. We are issued seabags, ruck sacks, or compact lockers to store our gear. It’s the sort of preparation for young military men and women to pare down to essentials. Of course, as some sailors I served alongside got financially stable, they tended to acquire things like clothes to go clubbing, camping, scuba, fishing gear, or golf equipment. Others developed hobbies that require a place to store equipment. Self-storage facilities thrive around military communities. Yet these facilities are not necessarily catering to single people. Young couples starting out get caught up in the consumer culture that drives so many economies. So the idea of traveling light as a uniformed military member runs into a civilian mindset of “accumulation”. It arriving in – or exiting – middle age with the more common tweaked backs, and moderating enthusiasm for having stuff one has not touched in years, saving money and preparing for retirement that brings us back to traveling “light”.

Helping move a family member into his family’s first home proved to be one of those occasions where my inner-voice of incredulity of what two people can accumulate in a few years struggled to remain “inside”. Relatively little of the thousands of odds n’ ends that we boxed, bagged and stowed on a moving truck or in personal vehicles would likely be missed if lost in the move. In the end, the young family should make a decision about their possessions and whether to begin disposition. Yet the odds are that they like most of us, will just stow everything in an outbuilding until some future time.

What the experience over the past weeks has wrought is to create an angst in me What am I leaving to my children, my spouse or another to wade through? For the twenty years prior to my marriage, I rarely owned anything more than what I could carry in my car. Increasingly, I have gone through things I have accumulated, but only disposed of items that I “wouldn’t miss” or have little value to me. There are still hundreds of items I could shed and not miss. I thought it was my Boomer generation that liked to accumulate “stuff”. It starts off with small things, home maintenance projects, spare parts, projects that need work, and of course, “toys” we need to have to cope with all the long years of working. I’m nearing retirement now. I just do not have the will to go through my “stuff”.

I have storage bins of electrical parts, copper tubing, and nearly full gallons of interior paint. Pictures, some framed, I have not put up for five years or more. And “collections”. I recently donated thirty or forty glass medicinal bottles from the last century. Dozens of books on various subjects I have not re-read in ten years. Some fragments of charcoal art from the 1920s and century-old stamps in an album I have held onto since age 13. Anybody want a 120 year old English ceramic vase, a slightly-worn New England carved chair, or a decade-old, still-unused bathroom exhaust fan?

The junk dealer is on speed-dial.

Ports of call: memories of Cartagena Spain

“JOIN THE NAVY AND SEE THE WORLD”

Navy recruiting slogan in the mid- 20th Century

High school Spanish, as well as years living in southern Arizona near the Mexican border made travel in Latin America easier. Traveling to Spain, on the other hand, was a little more of a challenge. I was amused that they do not necessarily speak “Spanglish” or the Sonoran (Mexico) dialect there.

My second Mediterranean deployment on the USS PETERSON, a SPRUANCE-class guided-missile destroyer, began in October, 1994. One of the first ports we visited was Cartagena. Located in the state of Murcia, it is a port city that has seen sailors on its streets for a few thousand years. Having lived and visited modern cities, from San Francisco to London, UK, seeing a Roman-era coliseum and medieval architecture as well as only a few-centuries-old buildings, was fascinating.

Cartagena, Spain, a bit more modern after thirty years (image via web)

I ventured out on liberty alone, trusting that my Spanish would help me get around. A family-run cafe, Restaurante Casa Pepe, (a small lighter I kept all these years in trinket box, reminds me of that port visit), welcomed me. It was from a son who offered to show me around his city, when I learned that Murcia has a distinct dialect from Castilian or other Latin America dialects. (When I traveled to Panama, speaking something like a resident of northern Sonora definitely obscured that I was an American). We joked as to whose Spanish was “really” Spanish (or “Mur’th’ia -n”).

I should plan to visit the places I saw while in the Navy. I may live in America’s “finest city” (open to debate), but I would like to stand again where Romans, Arab merchants, Etruscans and Jesus apostles stood. Though I think I will upgrade our mode of travel. Anything more luxurious than a Navy ship is preferable.

freedom of choice

I make bad decisions often enough. I often regret those decisions, such as eating too much of something tasty, or smoking too many cigars. Sometimes my decisions affect others. When I am driving somewhere with my wife but unfamiliar of the route, I am often adamant I know where I am going. (Worse, I tend to blame my spouse in not giving me good directions.) Yet I try not to make bad decisions on the basis of some jingoist (that is, extreme patriotic or excessive bias in judging one’s own associations, party, or group as superior to others) vision of America.

Constitutionally-protected “rights” and public health responsibilities

Anyone who has a basic understanding of the history and governance of the United States should recognize we are a representative democracy. Framed by our Constitution, the three-branch organization of an executive, legislative and judicial body, depends on knowledgeable citizens who elect representatives to make policy and govern in our collective best interest. Most glaring, given our recent history, the people we elect to public office, and they staff, in all three branches of government are flawed men and women. But so are the people they are supposed to represent. And policies that are implemented are just as flawed.

Public health is everyone’s responsibility

Looking only at decisions that affect the public health of a nation, the last eighteen months of a COVID-19 global pandemic have created confusion, fear, anger, and suspicion that increases the dis-United States. While bureaucrats, politicians and “experts” often find their actions in times of crisis have supporters or opponents, inaction is generally worse for their constituencies. However, in 2020 and continuing in 2021, a large minority of people within the United States demonstrate their freedom by treating public health mandates as akin to tyranny.

Studies prove that people tend to believe others whom they view as authorities (whether or not they actually are such experts). It naturally predisposes us to support those we believe and distrust those we view as opponents. Deciding to refuse basic protection, in the form of masks, or to decline vaccination against COVID-19 based on hearsay, political rhetoric, or Internet-stoked conspiracies, is a bad decision. The majority of those who are refusing masks, or vaccinations, or social-distancing, DO NOT deliberately want to harm their relatives, friends, co-workers or First Responders. But many have been harmed anyway.

The consequences of such behavior have resulted in millions with permanently-altered health and the loss of people who otherwise would be alive today. If Jonas Salk and others had faced such backlash today, millions would still be debilitated by polio, measles, tetanus, Hepatitis A and B, or whooping cough (CDC). That we have forgotten what these illness did is due to the availability of vaccines.

For just a few dollars a dose, vaccines save lives and help reduce poverty. Unlike medical treatment, they provide a lifetime of protection from deadly and debilitating disease. They are safe and effective. They cut healthcare and treatment costs, reduce the number of hospital visits, and ensure healthier children, families and communities.

Seth Berkley, epidemiologist

Consensus in a free society

An online dictionary defines freedom as. (1) the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. (2)   (f. from): the state of not being subject to or affected by (a particular undesirable thing). One of the tenets of living in a free society is that consensus achieves the best outcome for citizens. The first step toward consensus is hold reasoned debate on such things as public health policy, voter-directed oversight of our legislators, tighter control of bureaucrats, and what policies should be left up to local or state oversight.  Just as some see conspiracies between certain plutocrats, elected officials, and foreign entities, when any group deems public health concerns and their remedy (i.e. COVID vaccination) are politically-motivated, these dissenting voices are as selfish and unpatriotic – as those whose views they claim to oppose. The solution to each of a nation’s divisive issues is reasoned dialogue and consensus. Or Abraham Lincoln’s words will ring true. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  .

at your six

Since I retired from the daily commute (and 12-hour workdays) a couple years ago, I enjoy more leisurely weekday mornings several times a month. With the end to COVID shutdowns, I am again meeting old friends over breakfast or coffee. Wednesday, I met a Marine veteran I have known for nearly twenty years. As military veterans and Christians, we encourage one another with conversation from similar military experiences, current events and biblical perspective. While sharing a meal with people is an opportunity to encourage one another (Acts 2:42 -47), we also can be encouraging to, and encouraged by people we meet. As we waited for our breakfast order to be prepared, we watched a homeless woman at the next table enjoy a little coffee the café employee freely gave her. Paul and I engaged her in conversation, and she notably brightened. Though living on the streets, she was someone’s grandmother and hungry for some pleasant conversation. I bought her the same breakfast we were having; Paul and I returned to our conversation. As we finished our meal, we noted she had quietly moved on. While she was grateful for the kindness shown her, it was I who learned the most from the morning. As disciples of Jesus and as veterans, He leads us. Jesus fed and cared for the poor and hungry; He instructed us to do likewise.

“At your six” is a military phrase that is analogous to a clock; six o’clock is behind the 12 o’clock or lead position, or “I’ve got your back”

sea stories: Archimedes, a cargo of amphorae, and a computer to guide them

We may not give enough credit to sailors for the world we know today. Poets and military strategists view the sea differently, but it was seamen with a knowledge of tides, winds and ocean currents that gave rise to empires. Although the romance of “iron” men putting to sea in wooden ships have inspired the likes of Homer and Richard Henry Dana, seafarers had to understand navigation by the Sun, Moon and stars to return to port. In time, not just merchants and fishermen went to sea, but navies deployed to protect trade routes and ferry warriors to far-off colonies. History is filled with the rise and fall of empires, each with inventions and knowledge that seem to be lost and reinvented in time by successive civilizations. Some that have survived and pulled from the muck of millennia suggest we today aren’t the first to think of certain technologies but only ones who have managed to expand on them.

While sailors today use GPS, LORAN, and other navigational aids, it was invention of the sextant in the Seventeenth Century that helped explorers determine that they would get to their next port in reasonable time. Or were they just the latest civilization to rediscover what the Myceneans, Hellenes (Greeks), Romans, and Ottoman sailors had invented time and again? After all, a little more than two centuries before Isaac Newton, Europeans still believed the Earth was flat. Two thousand years earlier, Greek seafarers may have benefitted from wisdom about the movement of Earth and sky that Copernicus, Galileo, Magellan and others subsequently “discovered”. A prolific thinker and inventor more than two centuries BCE, Archimedes, may have contributed to ocean navigation as well as an irrigation device in use still today in Asia and Africa.

the Antikythera mechanism

For 2400 years, a certain Greek shipwreck has lain at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Discovered in 1901, it was an object recovered from that wreck that technology, a century later, has revealed how wily the Greeks really were. The so-called Antikythera Mechanism is a mechanical computer that came with instructions, to accurately determine the position of celestial bodies at any given time. A BBC article and documentary provides a fascinating look at an object that decades ago was just an odd lump of corroded metal pulled from the Mediterranean. Now we understand that it was a sophisticated mechanism at a time when many still believed in temperamental gods and sea monsters. A thousand years before that ship put to sea, the Bronze Age eruption of Thera all but destroyed the Minoans maritime empire. Before the classical Greeks built towns on the coast of Spain, the Minoans traded with the Pharaohs. Romans who conquered the Greeks, navigated from Britain to Turkey and Egypt, built enduring roads and channeled water in aqueducts still being used today. Academics can only imagine the vast sum of knowledge in the ancient library at Alexandria destroyed by fire. We only have fragments referenced by other ancient writers.

Two thousand years from now, what will be rediscovered by sailors and explorers in the Forty-First Century? It may be some future sailor who dredges up a corroded iPhone from the flooded remains of a coastal city.

Ask the Chief: obtaining a VA Disability rating or upgrade

the back story

In 1995, while on Active Duty, I was a crewmember of a Navy ship in Portsmouth, Virginia. During the week leading up to the Labor Day weekend, I started to feel ill. Over the course of the following days, I was unable to get medically-screened for one reason or another. The sordid affair still bothers me if I think about that. Finally getting someone to take me to the base clinic, my appendix ruptured and I was recuperating for a month afterward.

For the next quarter-century, I had bowel issues requiring hospitalization about twice a year. I had left Active Duty for the Navy Reserve in 2000, but did not go to the VA for a disability review prior to leaving Active Duty. That proved to be a mistake that I am still regretting today. However, at the recommendation of a veteran, I submitted my Navy medical file to the VA for a disability review in 2017, and was awarded a Zero (0%) Service-Connected rating. It was actually the lesson that my son provided, before exiting his Army enlistment, where his extensive medical issues as a result of his Army service were recorded by the VA medical screener. He was awarded a 100% VA service-connected rating as a result. Since he had already signed papers to serve an additional year in the Army Reserve, there was no waiver or release from the Reserve contract, for a VA disability, unless the Army performed a disability-screening of their own.

All exiting military personnel should schedule a VA Disability review

Considering that I re-enlisted into the Navy Reserve later in that same year, 2000, I did not understand the necessity of seeking a VA Disability review. My delay until 2017 aged-out my two younger sons from benefits they might have gained from my rating. Obtaining a Disability Rating from the military branch, or from the VA, entitles a servicemember’s children to certain college tuition discount or waivers – as long as they are under age 23 (or 26 perhaps). Even a Rating of 0 (zero) Percent, meaning your condition does not debilitate you at present, qualifies.

A disability upgrade is not a simple exercise

It was a surgeon that I met with during the last few hospitalizations, I had employer-subsidized healthcare, who actually performed surgery the last time I was hospitalized, who linked my appendix rupture and scar tissue in the bowel, that prompted me to go back to the VA Disability board. However, I am beginning to understand how difficult it is to get the Government to recognize health issues that veterans suffer, long after their military service. While the most egregious treatment of Vietnam servicemembers attempting to get healthcare for Agent Orange and other herbicide exposure is well-known, only the symptoms that are legislatively-recognized allow for veterans to obtain assistance. For decades after the Gulf War and then Afghanistan and Iraq, exposure to burn pit fumes and other toxics in those regions were slow to be linked to veteran symptoms. In other regions and with other complications, veterans like me, whose ruptured appendix started twenty-five years of bowel issues and hospitalization, will not be quickly recognized.

For the last year of the COVID pandemic, all bureaucracies have been impacted by shutdowns and remote workforce initiatives. Though the VA has initiated a website for veterans to input their claims and supporting documentation, it has not functioned properly for the last several months. And when telephone support is not an hours-long waiting time, there seems to be no technical issues noted in their system, and no workaround (no staffed offices). But all those nasal-gastric tubes, barium /CAT scans, and morphine-drips, have made me determined to seek something more. Anything more from the VA.

More to come.……

Ask the Chief: celebrating Independence

Is it only in the United States of America that residents of a country can be split along ethnic, religious, economic, language, and education differences? No. Is the United States unique in one political party’s priorities being different than its opposition? No. Is there a single nation in the world that has eliminated poverty, discrimination, greed, persecution, government corruption, or ignorance? No. Is there an exodus from the United States to other countries due to better social and economic opportunities elsewhere? No, again.

Since the ascent of the United States as a global military and economic power just over a hundred years ago, the basic tenets that the country was founded upon, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, right of self-determination, basic human rights, economic opportunity and so on, has influenced many all over the world to seek the sort of life that Americans have taken for granted. Far more people today in the United States demand “rights” without a willingness to bear responsibility for their condition. Some seek a handout but are unwilling to follow the social ‘contract’. More are not willing to work to achieve what others have accumulated as a result of their hard work and skills acquired over many years.

A nation is unified when all share in common values, language, traditions, and responsibilities. And a unified nation can maintain its security inside and from external competitors and threats. What also defined the United States was respect for civil authority, and making the government responsible to the citizen for its authority. Poor or corrupt representation of a constituent’s desires would subject them to removal by ballot in a peaceful transition of power. These are what made an “American” out of millions of immigrants. The independence that we celebrate every Fourth of July has been misused by lobbyists, politicians, and selfish interests. A nation is intentionally “Balkanized” by institutionally pitting groups against one another by race, education, location, or political affiliation.

I am neither a populist, a bigot, nor a blind nationalist. Having spent twenty-five years in uniform of the United States, and involved in industry protecting the national security, I still see the benefits of a nation that, despite a complex history of injustices, has an amazing history of advancing technology and improving living conditions for billions of the world’s inhabitants. As a veteran, I am still frustrated by veteran homelessness and PTSD that has resulted in suicide of too many veterans. Yet, enlisting in the Navy enabled me to prosper. Had my paternal and maternal grandfathers remained in Europe and not come to the United States in the early Twentieth Century, none would have achieved the American Dream.

I am not ashamed to celebrate American independence.